By Dave Gilmore
6:25 AM EST, December 3, 2012
"Everyone dies. Not everyone keeps their promises."
The finale of "Boardwalk Empire's" third season provided more closure than excitement, capping off what has certainly been one of the worst years in Nucky Thompson's life.
After last week set the table for the inevitable war between the two factions, we are caught up with a montage of the conflict between Rosetti's gang and the tenuous Chalky-Capone-Nucky Alliance.
While Rosetti claims to be winning his invasion (just shy of hanging a "mission accomplished" banner up at Gillian's), morale is testy in both camps. The New York crew is drinking and boffing the cathouse dry, while Team Nucky is busy brawling amongst themselves.
While muscle is what he needed to save his hide last week -- and it certainly did -- Nucky strikes the decisive blow not with bullets but as a "guy with all the angles," as Eli aptly describes his brother.
This gambit is semi-complex even for us at home with all the information, so no wonder it worked on the likes of Mickey Doyle. The sum total of Nucky dangling Andrew Mellon's distillery in front of Rothstein is a twofold win for old Nucky.
First, Masseria cuts ties with Rosetti, effectively eliminating Gyp's fighting force in Atlantic City. Second, setting up a bootlegging operation on the Secretary of the Treasury's property probably isn't going to work out so for Rothstein.
"Big bait catches big rat," Nucky points out. This plan gets bonus points because it set up another fabulous phone call between Doyle and Rothstein.
The peripheral fallout from Nucky's power move hits hard on once-business partners Lucky Luciano and Gillian Darmody. It seems like she had bad timing in trying to deal with Rosetti herself. Had she just held out a bit longer, his seige would have been broken. As for Lucky, he's probably going to have to strike out on his own for a bit, after being set up on the heroin bust and losing his cool with Masseria and Rothstein.
The chain reaction set off by Masseria's withdrawal also allows Richard Harrow to become a one man army, clinically eliminating the last of Rosetti's men except a very lucky Tonino. Faced with a final goon with a gun on Tommy, he pulls off an action hero trick shot, and saves his young charge.
In brief moment of redemption, old man Sigorsky shows compassion for Tommy and Richard, taking the boy into the room he once screamed at him for entering. The writing was always on the wall that Richard and Julia and Tommy were not going to simply live happily ever after, but it doesn't make watching Richard turn his back on what seemed like a life nearing happiness any easier to watch.
In the wake of Harrow's massacre, Rosetti is deranged and doing a spooky Nucky Thompson/Steve Buscemi impression. Only a couple of his guys look to have survived until Tonino shows up. Throughout the scene, with Rosetti disheveled and holding a pistol, you're worried that he's going to waste Tonino for simply existing.
As it turns out, Tonino stabbing Rosetti in the back (and in the gut for good measure) was part of Masseria's truce with Nucky via Rothstein. He also probably hasn't forgotten how Gyp bludgeoned his cousin while buried up to his neck in the surf.
So, along the sand highway where we first met him, Gyp Rosetti finally reaps the chaos he has sowed. It's not the most satisfying end you could envision for Rosetti, particularly because Tonino himself was complicit in so much of Gyp's mayhem and destruction, yet we never really got to know him.
Still, it puts a fine emotional button on an unforgettable character performance by Bobby Cannavale. When Gyp Rosetti was in the room, you sat up and held your breath, even when was simply ordering coffee or removing his jacket. That volatility let what can at times be a complex, methodical show never lose its edge, and season three was certainly better for it.
So the dust settles on Nucky's most recent war and we find that Margaret has fled to her old stomping grounds in Brooklyn. Without Owen, she is, in her own words, "completely lost." She decides to terminate her pregnancy, and in a last ditch effort to set things right, Nucky shows up asking her to come back. It's not the greatest apology in the world, and Margaret certainly owns a small part of the blame for their marriage, but it's as close to the truth as Nucky Thompson gets.
"You don't have to pretend with me," he tells her. Not putting up facades is crucial in any good marriage, but so is valuing the same things. "It's only money" and it "doesn't mean anything" to Nucky, as he waves a wad of bills at her, but clearly the way that he uses it and the people it controls is something Margaret simply can't come to terms with, at least for now.
For as much closure as "Margate Sands" provided, there are still plenty of meaty character questions that beg answering when "Boardwalk Empire" returns. There are a few things I am left wondering as we say goodbye to the show's account of 1923.
First, Masseria's deal probably didn't include Chalky and Capone executing 30 of his guys on their way out of town. Certainly it seems Masseria will take issue with that. Perhaps the ambush (in woods that look very similar to the first attack Capone commits with Jimmy in season one) was just an excuse to get Chalky and Capone buddying up for a brief moment.
As for Gillian, one wonders what her role will be if she doesn't go the way of Lucy Danziger next season. She's certainly not dead when we last see her, but definitely on enough heroin that could leave her health open for debate. Either way, that bordello is going to need some serious cleanup if it's going to be open again. Let's hope the custody hearing between her and whoever is going to raise Tommy is a brief one.
Nucky found a new mission statement in the wake of this battle, confiding in Eli that he wanted to keep a lower profile and shrink the circle of trust around him as much as possible. It's good to have Eli back in the picture, as Shea Whigham and Steve Buscemi have developed a really excellent rhythm together.
If next year is a reboot of a more streamlined, efficient version of Nucky's operation, than one can only fantasize about what might come along to unsettle it. Will it be another Gyp Rosetti, coming from the outside to lay waste to this boozy empire, or an ambitious new challenger from within? Whatever the case may be, it's a darn good bet it'll be worth watching.
Three random facts from "Margate Sands"
¿ In addition to being the part of the city Capone stakes out, "Margate Sands" is referenced in T.S. Eliot's 1922 poem "The Waste Land," though Eliot refers to the Margate in his native England in the context poem.
¿ The crooked officer who arrested Luciano says he got his scar in Mulberry Bend, an infamous section of New York's Five Points neighborhood. You'll recall that neighborhood famously portrayed a few decades earlier than "Boardwalk" in another Martin Scorsese project, "The Gangs of New York."
¿ Barney Google, to whom Rosetti humorously compares Nucky Thompson, is a comic strip character who sort of resembles Monopoly guy (or vice versa). He featured in "Barney Google and Snuffy Smith," a strip which is still running in newspapers today after almost 94 years.